“The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience…”
The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 1, Paragraph 1
What is the real difference between the Popish church and the Protestant Church? Anyone could see that there is a great chasm between the two, but where is it? It is over authority. Authority, according to the Protestants, lies solely with Scripture. If you asked the Roman Catholic, his answer would be that Scripture and the Church are the two authorities to which one should appeal.
This is what the Reformation was started over. This is the issue that Luther sought to fix. Luther wanted it to be the case that everyone could read their own personal Bible and draw their own conclusions from it.
See, to this point in history, the church had a stranglehold on Bibles. They had believed that Rome was a holy city and, because of that, Latin was a holy language. So naturally they translated the Bible into Latin. There was just one problem: at the time of the Reformation nobody spoke Latin. Because of this, the church maintained that their priests were holier than the common people because the common people were not educated enough to read the Scriptures.
However, there was another consequence. Because the people had no idea what the word of God actually said, the priests could say whatever they wanted and no one could call them on their heresy. “Purgatory? It’s in there. Trust me,” would have been the common refrain from the priests. But, not only that, heresies arose surrounding Mary, “indulgences”, the Eucharist, the Pope, and many more things I don’t have the time to list.
They had set up a system where ultimate power lay at their feet. It couldn’t be challenged from the outside and, on the inside, the priests were getting rich and enjoying prostitutes and all the other things that come with enormous power, so there was little reason for them to want their situation to change.
Enter Martin Luther. He is a very smart law student-turned monk. He is working his way up the ranks within the church and truly seeks forgiveness for his sins. For all (or, at least, most) of those around him, this was a way to get a well-paying job and live in comfort, but it was real to Luther. He truly believed that he would stand judgement before God and could find no comfort in his own goodness.
Finally, Martin Luther rose up and came face to face, not with the Latin, but with the Greek. He discovered the glory that was Romans 1:17. He discovered that his own works could not save him, but it was God who graciously saved and counted as righteous all who would believe.
It had finally happened. Someone on the inside, a priest, teacher, and translator of the church had begun to see the disconnection between what the church was saying and what the Scriptures had always said.
Roman Catholicism, to this day, regards the church as on par with Scripture in questions of authority. But, this means that the Scriptures are subordinated to the church. Whenever your authority is Scripture and something else, Scripture is going to be drowned out and unbiblical, and unfounded doctrinal heresies flow from there.
So, with Luther, we affirm the ultimate supremacy of the Scriptures. There is nothing else we can appeal to. There is nowhere else we can turn. Nothing else is theopneustos, or God-breathed. God has given us Scripture to be the final rule of our faith in all matters of controversy. Wouldn’t you rather get your doctrine from the source and be sure of its purity, instead of allowing someone else to get it for you and possibly poison it?
This is our Reformational doctrine of Sola Scriptura. We have no higher authority than Scripture, and no authority equal to Scripture. It alone serves as our authority.
Soli Deo Gloria.